The Marketing Backstory Of How Intel Became A Household Name

Millions of otherwise tech-illiterate consumers came to know Intel through its "Intel Inside" campaign, which at the time was an incredibly novel marketing approach. Here's what you can learn from their innovative strategy.

Things change, even if we don’t want them to. No company operating in the free market can be successful in perpetuity by delivering the same products with the same marketing and the same margins. While it is easy and natural to crave consistency and avoid risk, the changing nature of life and our environment requires us to change, to adapt, and to take chances in order to survive.

If one thing distinguishes Intel’s innovative thinking, it is their 1990s strategy of branding a semiconductor chip as a valuable feature that consumers would look for when they purchased a computer. The campaign’s two decades of ubiquity make us forget this now, but at the time it was an incredibly novel approach to marketing. People bought computers because of the software, the specs, or a friend’s recommendation. Who cared about who made some tiny chip inside the box that you couldn’t even see?

But with the proliferation of PCs, and with consumers at a loss in trying to figure out what made one better than the other, Intel saw an opportunity, and so it took a major risk. Intel’s leadership was convinced this was the way to grow market share, however, and the company invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort.

I first became aware of what they were doing in 1993, when I met with Intel executives to discuss their International CES participation. They described a plan for a remarkable exhibit at the show that year, a centerpiece of their effort to shift the image of Intel from that of a chip company to that of a producer of a coveted, brand-name product that stood for performance. The display Intel was planning was so elaborate that we actually had to work out a deal so they could occupy the same exhibit space they would be using at another show taking place a month and a half earlier.

The booth was a hit, and for several years Intel built on its success at CES by rolling out ever-larger, more elaborate and immersive exhibits showcasing the company’s cutting-edge technology. I will never forget being inside the "Intel experience" and feeling like I was touching the future. By using an amazing multimedia cascading exhibit, Intel managed to convey to me and others that Intel was way ahead of almost everyone else. You can’t get the same impression by reading a two-dimensional ad in a magazine or even watching a television commercial. Intel wisely used the live experience to change the very perception of its company, its products, and its importance.

Intel also cleverly used its CEO keynote and marketing around the show, including signage, publications, and live events, to ensure that every CES visitor knew about "Intel Inside." Soon, consumers looked for that label before buying a computer, much in the same way that they look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance when shopping for a toothpaste. By marketing itself in that way, Intel transformed into a brand known to millions of otherwise technology-illiterate consumers. Those consumers might not have known a motherboard from a mainframe, but they had "Intel Inside."

The Intel marketing campaign taught me three things:

First, a clever company can create something out of almost nothing by thinking outside the box. Intel turned a chip into a brand and that brand into billions in added sales.

Second, Intel’s success demonstrated the power of trade shows to create an indelible live, interactive marketing experience. Intel captured the critical influencers who attended the trade show, including the media, retailers, and Wall Street. Intel’s marketing wizardry impressed upon them that the company was becoming not just another chip fabricator, but a brand in its own right.

Finally, Intel taught me the value of a visible CEO in enhancing and transforming the image of a company. Almost every other year, Intel CEO Craig Barrett delivered a keynote address at CES. (His successor, Paul Otellini, delivered the CES keynote in 2012.) Barrett used every second of his allotted sixty minutes to demonstrate how Intel "got" the future. More, I had the sense that Intel was at the center of the product offerings of so many other companies. The CEO would not only convey factual information about the company and its products, but also leave every audience member impressed by the importance and future of Intel.

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Excerpted from NINJA INNOVATION, reprinted with permission from William Morrow, Copyright 2013 by Gary Shapiro

—Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of CEA, the U.S. trade association that represents more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and owns and produces the annual International CES, the world’s largest annual innovation event. Shapiro is the New York Times best-selling author of The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. A regular columnist for the Huffington Post, Forbes, and the Daily Caller, he has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other national publications. He also appears regularly on CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN and Fox News. He is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. He splits his time between Detroit and Washington, and is married to Dr. Susan Malinowski.

[Image: Flickr user Creativity103]

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2 Comments

  • Mohan Kompella

    Intel's "ingredient marketing" - as it is now called - certainly shook up the industry and diminished the power that PC makers enjoyed until that point. 

    Another recent campaign from Corning, for its "Gorilla Glass" product, attempts to re-create some of that magic... http://ow.ly/gE9yU

    Mohan | BminusC.com